Welcome to Sleep Dilemmas, Solved, our column addressing common conundrums about sleep. Here, Shelly Ibach, Thrive Global’s Sleep Editor-at-Large and President & CEO of Sleep Number, consults with other top sleep experts and highlights the best tips on how to improve your sleep, and thus, your overall well-being.
Even in normal times, ‘tis the season when we’re prone to colds. And right now, as we continue to navigate the coronavirus pandemic, it’s even more crucial that we strengthen our immune systems. One of the most natural and important ways to do this is through deep, restorative rest on a consistent basis. Along with good nutrition and regular exercise, quality sleep is foundational for physical and mental health. Even in the midst of a pandemic, every day is better when you’ve slept well: Higher quality sleep supports physical recovery and emotional resilience.
The science on the subject is crystal clear: Study after study has shown that sleep boosts our immunity, keeping it robust. Without the recommended seven to nine hours of quality shut-eye every night, we are more susceptible to infections and viruses. Sleeping well will also help your body recover more easily in the event that you do come down with something. Simply stated, if you don’t get enough sleep, your defense system will be weakened.
For more on the subject, I talked to Eve Van Cauter, Ph.D., a sleep expert and professor in the department of medicine at the University of Chicago, who chairs the Sleep Number Scientific Advisory Board. “Getting the rest we need is particularly important during the pandemic because the immune system is strongly modulated by sleep,” she explains. “Studies have shown that adequate sleep is needed for optimal resistance to infections. It will help reinforce immune function and decrease the risk of getting infected.” Van Cauter goes on to say that if you do contract the virus, “good sleep may reduce the risk of having a more severe form of the disease. It may reduce the severity of your symptoms and speed up your recovery.” What’s more, she adds, “Your response to the vaccine and its effectiveness may be compromised if you do not have good sleep duration and quality.”
With that in mind, we need to do everything in our power to set ourselves up for the best possible sleep experience. My recommendations for these wintry nights: Try taking a hot bath to induce relaxation and encourage a good night’s sleep, followed by a wind-down routine including some kind of meditation, deep breathing exercises, or prayer — whatever is relaxing for you. I also recommend limiting the amount of news you watch and setting a cut-off time for news consumption. We want to be well-informed, but the news is often stressful, and setting limits is crucial, especially as we get closer to bedtime.
As always, I can’t emphasize enough the importance of having a routine: a regular bedtime and wake-up time, as well as switching off devices an hour before bed, avoiding caffeine late in the day, and limiting alcohol intake. I understand that during the holidays, you might want to be less rigid and more relaxed about your schedule — enjoying festive meals later in the evening, and perhaps having later bedtimes, too. It’s particularly important during stressful times to allow yourself the freedom to fully relax and celebrate, whether or not you are able to be with family members and friends. However, when life demands more of you, as it does now, a good sleep routine will make a world of difference to the quality of your rest, and to your energy during the day. So if you need to adjust the timeframe a little during the holidays — perhaps going to bed an hour later and waking up an hour later — go ahead; just remember to be as consistent as possible from day to day.
And, as you’ve heard me say before, what you sleep on matters. It is tremendously valuable to have a supportive, comfortable bed and bedding. At Sleep Number, our 360® Smart Beds effortlessly adjust throughout the night, to keep each individual comfortable and help you achieve the highest quality sleep. In the early months of the pandemic, we added circadian rhythm insights to our SleepIQ technology in the bed. It analyzes sleep and wake cycles and establishes an ideal sleep schedule, in addition to providing personalized insights to support consistent, quality sleep. This new feature has made a significant difference for me personally, helping me to be disciplined about my routine, improving my SleepIQ score and my energy during the day. We have found that people who use the circadian rhythm feature have a 35-minute improvement to their sleep time per night! There’s no doubt consistency has an impact on sleep quality.
I sleep well at night so I can dream big during the day. Lately, I’ve been dreaming about all of us staying healthy and strong this holiday season and spreading nothing but joy. It has never been more important to have a strong immune system. Make a resolution now to support your immune system with deep rest for a healthy, peaceful, and restorative end to the year, and start 2021 with energy and optimism.
Sleep well, be well, dream big,